Review: Jacob’s Pillow Returns with Touch Tour of the Land

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BECKET, Mass. — Over the past year and a half, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival has faced greater challenges than the weather. Last summer, for the first time in its 88-year history, the festival had to cancel all performances at its idyllic home in the Berkshires. Last November, with the pandemic still raging, One of the two theaters of the festival was destroyed in the fire..

Jacob’s Pillow is back full summer performances, both onsite and online. But the pandemic is not over, so all onsite demonstrations are outdoors, subject to Covid protocols and weather. On Wednesday’s opening day, the main obstacle was rain.

The festival hired a meteorologist to call a few hours before showtime. It was matinee on Wednesday, but there was no evening performance. That means I’ve only seen one of the two shows that Dorrance Dance, the leading tap company and regular Pillow of the past decade, has set up to kick off the season.

It was a happy re-entry, especially as the matinee program is a kind of theme park tour. (The video will be available for free on the festival website from July 15-29.) The audience is divided into small groups identified by colorful wristbands, and each group is guided by the doctors to a series of stations featuring Dorrance Dance members. Perform vignetting on a loop.

At the open-air bar, we meet Aaron Marcellus, Claudia Rahardjanoto, and Luke Hickey, who, after the last meeting, pretend to tighten another jam session. Marcellus is a singer, a soulful and talented singer, but at some point he also contributes a little. At the piano, Hickey replaces him, and Rahardjanoto, who plays bass, joins him in a bass and singing duet. This cyclical trade is characteristic of Dorrance Dance and the fun, inviting, impromptu spirit that makes the company a smart choice to welcome back audiences.

The next piece in the Tea Garden takes a different direction. Warren Craft and Rena Kinoshita, who look like beekeeper outfits, tinker with electronics and antennas and turn the faucet into an esoteric attempt to communicate across potentially interstellar distances – or something like that. is it about Latest report on UFOs?

The sci-fi theme comes into play later, when we encounter Michelle Dorrance, Leonardo Sandoval, and Byron Tittle in overalls setting up a ladder and dish antenna. Nearby, chairs lined up around a gravel pit, where three dancers use oars and boats to create a small symphony beat, paying attention to the sound possibilities of the gravel: squeaking, scratching, rattle.

Before that, we visited Ephrat Asherie and Matthew West in the woods, did a sad disconnection dance to the accompaniment of the wind chimes. We spied Josette Wiggan-Freund in an isolated and rustic cabin as she hung on to dry the wash, which had become incredibly close to the dance equivalent of Vaughan’s voice, as she passed on to Sarah Vaughan records in the heat. Finally, we find the rest of the company (including guest appearance star trumpeter Keyon Harrold) clustered around more cabins, banging on tubs and sinks and having a great old time.

Where are we? When are we? There is something unreal about these vignettes, something very reminiscent of theme parks in the background. Familiar scenarios also miss an opportunity, as Pillow has its own rich architectural and spatial history. (Can cabin dances refer to the site’s past as a stop on the Underground Railroad?) Stock setups add a sense of refinement. As soon as the last party starts and we get up to join in, we drive us away. The journey is over.

Under these circumstances, these flaws can be forgiven. Dorrance Dance provides a pleasant tour. Maybe if I’d seen the other show with two new pieces designed for the festival’s outdoor stage, the matinee would have looked like the perfect appetizer. But the Thursday night show also rained and I had to return home in Brooklyn.

Fortunately, some of the show I missed – a premiere by Wiggan-Freund to Harrold’s music – will be at the Queens Theater in Corona Park in Flushing Meadows on July 9 and 10. These shows are also outdoors (but with an indoor backup plan, in case of rain). I’m watching the weather.

dorrance dance

Sunday at Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass; jacobspillow.org.

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